Disability discrimination – how ready are you?

A recent report produced for the Department for Work and Pensions examined
the readiness of employers for the removal of the small employer exemption and
other changes that are due to take place in October when the Disability
Discrimination Act (DDA) is amended. Smaller employers who are excluded from
the Act at present – as they have fewer than 15 employees – will find that
after October they will be subject to the legislation in full. Other excluded
sectors, such as the police, prison services and firefighters, will also find
the Act applying to them.

The report on employers’ reactions to the present impact of the Act makes
for interesting, if not worrying, reading. As might be expected, larger
organisations and the public and voluntary sectors were more aware of their
duties to disabled employees under the Act. In total, 62 per cent of all
employers were aware of the Act. Smaller employers were unsure of the
implications for their organisation. This is the group most likely to be
affected by the changes.

In particular, the report emphasises a lack of understanding of what amounts
to a ‘reasonable adjustment’ within the meaning of the Act. This is also a
common theme in cases before tribunals. Employers often fail to consider
adjustments that could be made relatively easily and cheaply. Nearly all
employers in the study said their organisation would recruit the best candidate
for the job, regardless of any disability. However, this assertion is thrown
into doubt by the figures demonstrating that a third of employers thought that
taking on a disabled person would be a risk. Nearly half of the employers
stated that they would find it difficult to retain an employee who became
disabled while in employment.

The report also states that there are particular misunderstandings around
mental illnesses, with the majority of employers believing that someone with
schizophrenia would be difficult or impossible to employ, whereas in reality,
an individual with the condition under medical control would need no physical
adjustments to be made. Similar misunderstand-ings surrounded clinical
depression.

Employers showed that they gave little consideration to adjustments that
could be made to assist people through the application and interview process,
which explains in part the number of cases reaching tribunal from disabled
applicants.

However, employers are proving to be more accommodating when it comes to
treating their disabled employees fairly, with 83 per cent of those who employ
disabled people having made adjustments. They were made (according to 98 per
cent) because it was the right thing to do, with only 35 per cent also
attributing the changes to the Act.

One of the clearest requests of employers – and in particular, the report
states, small employers – is the need for clear impartial and authoritative
guidance on what best practice is in the employment field. So there seems to be
some way to go before employers are compliant with existing legislation. There
is little doubt that small employers in particular are likely to struggle
initially with the legislative requirements.

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